Performance apparel is more difficult to manufacture than non-performance apparel because of the special fabrics used (laminated or coated fabrics for example or very light weight fabrics) and the manufacturing time involved in building the features (down filled baffles, intricate pocketing, seam sealing, underarm vents, removable powder cuffs etc…) found in many performance garments. All of the special handling and time-consuming sewing increases the cost of manufacture. Plus the fabrics themselves are expensive due to the laminations, coatings and special milling processes that add the performance features (like being waterproof and breathable) into the fabric. Therefore almost all performance garments are made in Asia where labor and material costs are low.
This move offshore to take advantage of very low labor and overhead costs took the entire supply chain with it. Almost all performance fabrics including some well-known USA brands are made in Asia. A typical apparel factory in China for example will have multiple fabric mills, zipper vendors, and snap and trims suppliers with in 30 minutes of the factory. Local supply chain competition is fierce assuring all components are also sourced as cheaply as possible.
The scale of production of these fabric mills and manufacturing sewing operations is very large and they have driven down the cost of everything needed to make a performance garment. Almost every apparel brand in the world that you have ever heard of exclusively makes their product in Asian factories. And after so many years of following this model, the patterning expertise, the construction know how, and the innovations in fabric technology have mostly been transferred to Asia as well.
A recent New York Times article said that only 2% of all apparel worn in the USA is made in the USA and the vast majority of that is simple to sew garments like tee shirts, underwear and jeans. This is understandable because the quicker a sewer can make a garment the less cost is tied up in the labor. A tee shirt that takes 5 minutes to sew can be made much more competitively in the USA than a garment that takes five, seven or more hours to sew. So making very detailed performance garments in the USA the way WILD Outdoor Apparel does locally in Oregon is very unique. For example, The Burnside Alpha jacket takes between six and seven hours to sew. A sewer in the USA can make as much in a single day as a sewer in Bangladesh can make in an entire month.
WILD Outdoor Apparel is able to make garments here because there is know how in Oregon due to the performance apparel industry that is located here. The factory I am using made Columbia Sportswear garments before they moved everything to Asia. This factory eventually went out of business with the rest of the apparel manufacturing in the USA. However, with a business model that focuses on quality, flexibility and small runs this factory is able to make a comeback.
The ability to make small runs is vital to WILD because I do not need to tie up huge amounts of borrowed money to satisfy large minimum order requirements for Asian factories. The local manufacturing gives me the ability to make what I need instead of making more than is needed and closing out the excess at deep discounts. With small runs come greater cost but also greater quality and greater attention to detail. We also create local living wage jobs and reduce the environmental footprint of WILD.
A business like WILD can’t compete on price with huge brands that have enormous economies of scale. What I
have to compete with is my unique product from a concept, design and brand viewpoint and local manufacturing makes that possible. Without the local vendor I would have to play ball with the big guys on their pitch on their terms and those are overwhelming obstacles. Being made in the USA allows me to differienate by products and brand the way large brands cannot.